Interview with Mykola Malomuzh
"Religion Committee Supports Theology and Christian Ethics In Schools"
Interview with Mykola Malomuzh, deputy head of the National Committee on Religious Matters of Ukraine
– What is the position of the National Committee on Religious Matters of Ukraine concerning issues like the accreditation of religious educational institutions and the recognition of theology as an academic discipline?
– The National Committee on Religious Matters and the All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organizations have already discussed the issues of accreditation of religious educational institutions, as well as the creation of secular educational institutions at the initiative of religious organizations.
Considering the importance of this problem, representatives of the committee, the Ministry of Education and the All-Ukraine Council of Churches, together with representatives of almost all the confessions in Ukraine (the three Orthodox churches, the Greek and Roman Catholic churches, the Jewish, Muslim and Protestant communities) started a joint working group. They developed a solid methodological grounding and worked out practical recommendations that might provide the basis for religious instruction, both in secular and religious educational institutions.
In addition, the working group raised the problem of developing appropriate legislation for the accreditation of diplomas and other documents that would clearly define the activities of such educational institutions, as well as the status of religious disciplines. If we are talking about the system of higher education, this is first and foremost connected with the introduction of theology as an academic discipline.
Two alternative names for the discipline are being considered, "bohoslovia" and "teologia." [Translator's note: in English, both of these translate as "theology," but "bohoslovia" has Slavic roots, whereas "teologia" comes from Greek.] There is no unity of opinion on how to name the discipline: the majority of the church representatives favor the term "bohoslovia" and a minority favor "teologia."
The ten attempts of the working group to consider the issue [of introducing theology as an academic discipline] were not futile. The results of its work were put on the agenda at an international scholarly conference held from 21 to 22 March 2002. Representatives of the All-Ukraine Council of Churches, the Pedagogical Academy and the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, and educators took part in this conference. They adopted a resolution entitled "The Religious and Secular System of Education: Specific Tasks under the Conditions of Ukrainian Society." This resolution outlines proposals concerning theology as an academic discipline, the accreditation of religious educational institutions and recognition of their diplomas, the introduction of Christian ethics in schools, beginning with primary and secondary schools, and so on.
However, there is a problem with the Ministry of Education, since according to the Constitution of Ukraine, the church is separated from the state. This norm prohibits religious instruction in schools and does not allow priests to teach. Therefore, at the initial stage, amendments should be made to the law on education, which would allow churches and religious organizations to establish private religious schools. There are many possible ways of establishing such schools, for instance: a secondary school under the patronage of a religious organization. Nonetheless, Christian ethics should be introduced in secular schools as well, so that 6-year-olds and older children could learn this subject and benefit from it.
Furthermore, we are not only talking about the introduction of Christian ethics as an academic discipline, but also about the formation of a solid spiritual basis and Christian morality in children, beginning at an early age, that is, from nursery and grammar schools. In other words, we are talking about the educational process.
On the other hand, I would like to emphasize that in March 2002, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma issued decree #279, "On Urgent Measures for Combating the Negative Consequences of Totalitarian Policies of the Former Soviet Union regarding Religion and Restoration of the Violated Rights of Churches and Religions Organizations." According to article 2 of the decree, "The Ministry of Education of Ukraine and the National Committee on Religious Matters of Ukraine, together with the Pedagogical Academy of Ukraine, Ukrainian churches and religious organizations, will make their proposals concerning the implementation of spiritual and moral values into the educational process and submit them to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine for consideration."
Therefore, the foundation is basically ready. I think that the intellectual basis, worked out by representatives of churches, the National Committee on Religious Matters, the Ministry of Education and the Pedagogical Academy, as well as scholars and specialists in this field, will help to develop the syllabus and implement it in practice. The committee fully supports the introduction of theology in higher educational institutions and Christian ethics in primary and secondary schools.
– How do you plan to introduce Christian ethics in primary and secondary schools if there are pupils who profess different religions? Will they be able to choose instructors of their religion or will this class be optional for them?
– Let us consider the two options. The first one is simpler and can be used at the initial stage. It is an elective course, which can be either chosen by children, if they are mature enough to decide, or attended by pupils with parents' consent. The approach we have taken, however, is broader. Christian ethics as a discipline will be adapted and adjusted in such a way that it will not impose principles of any one denomination, be it Orthodoxy, Catholicism, or Protestantism. We have analyzed many textbooks adhered to by various jurisdictions and created a single joint textbook, which was approved by representatives of different denominations. This textbook includes practically all aspects of Christian ethics, avoiding points of contradiction between different jurisdictions.
– And what about the children who profess Islam or Judaism?
We have also considered this question. There are two approaches to solving it in worldwide practice. The first one presupposes teaching the Koran or the Torah in schools where children from Muslim or Jewish communities constitute a majority.
– In the second approach, where believers of these religions are not numerous, Muslim or Jewish students will have the alternative to study the basics of their religion as an elective, that is, to study the moral values expressed in their holy writings.
Representatives of the Jewish community proposed a third approach at the last session of the All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organizations held before the conference. According to this, at the initial stage general religious instruction might be introduced in schools without making a special emphasis on Christian ethics.
It should also be pointed out that these approaches are valid if we are talking about the formational process. However, if religious studies are under discussion, this only involves the cognitive process, which allows the study of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, regardless of the religion professed by the students. If most students are Christian, though, more attention can be concentrated on Christianity and less on other religions. In any case, the specialists who prepare the syllabus should carefully consider this situation.
We believe that the fundamentals of Christian ethics and theology should be taught by schoolteachers or professors at higher educational institutions, rather than priests. However, if priests possess the appropriate qualifications and skills, that is, if they are qualified to teach, they can also be instructors of Christian ethics.
Interview conducted in Kyiv, 28 March 2002
by Taras HRYNCHYSHYN